Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reconstruction Workers Conclude 24 Hour Vigil at Sheriff's Office

Beginning yesterday at 1:00pm, on one of the coldest days of the year, members of New Orleans' Congress of Day Laborers and their allies began a 24-hour vigil outside the office of Sheriff Marlin Gusman to demand an end to his office's racial profiling and race-based deportation of immigrants held in Orleans Parish Prison. The vigil was timed to begin at the same time that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of two workers who had been held in the prison for 90 days and 160 days.

"Sheriff Gusman violated their rights and violated the constitution," said organizer Denis Soriano. "We see what is happening every day inside of Sheriff Gusman's jail. We have tried to meet with Sheriff Gusman and tried to explain to him, but hes not valuing us as a community. We are holding this prayer vigil to say to Sheriff Gusman, just like he's a human being and wants his rights respected, we also want our rights respected."

According to organizers,
The prayer vigil follows Gusman’s refusal to comply with an Open Records Act requests from the Congress of Day Laborers, as well as his repeated cancellation of meetings to launch a real community dialogue on the issue, even after he publicly committed to do so in front of TV cameras on the steps of the New Orleans federal courthouse on Nov. 15, 2011 after a federal judge ordered the release of one immigrant workers from the Sheriff’s illegal custody.
The vigil opened yesterday with statements from reconstruction workers and their allies. Ezequiel Falcon, a member of the Congress of Day Laborers, described the reason they had gathered.

We're claiming our rights...The majority of us came after Hurricane Katriana to rebuild this city. But now we're seeeing our neighbors, our friends, and our family disappearing from our streets. We want the right to be a permanent and stable community, where taking my daughter to school every day can be a normal act and not an act of extreme bravery. We want our freedom.

Freddy Lopez, another reconstruction worker, described his experience of being arrested and turned over to Homeland Security, and how that experience taught him how important it is to fight back.
We are here not only for the people that have been disappeared but for the people they want to disappear in the future. I have lived, in my own skin, how they try to violate your rights. (Last year) I came from celebrating mothers day with my wife and my child, and a police officer stopped me. I don't know if it's because i am Latino, but he asked me for my documentation. I showed him all of my paperwork and he told me i was going to be arrested for not having a valid license. I was supposed to go to court the next day but instead of taking me to court i was taken to immigration. I was there for two or three months and saw how if people don't speak English they're left there for long periods of time because they can't defend themselves. And that's why we're here on this day: to demand that we get respected (by the police) in the same way we respect them.
Overnight, workers received solidarity visits from activists, church groups, musicians and others, bringing food, hot drinks, and entertainment, including a performance from conscious hip-hop artist Truth Universal and a 3:00am screening of the film Machete projected on the outside wall of Sheriff Gusman's office. Workers left the vigil this afternoon, and marched to the city council, where they have gathered to support a city council resolution calling for a smaller city jail.

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